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FAA chief completes personal safety flight on 737 MAX

written by Hannah Dowling | October 1, 2020
737 MAX family in flight (Boeing)

FAA administrator Steve Dickson has completed his personal safety evaluation flight on the updated 737 MAX, however says there are still ways to go before recertification.

US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief and ex-commercial pilot Steve Dickson has completed a two-hour evaluation flight on the updated Boeing 737 MAX, following through on his promise not to give the new aircraft a green light until personally performing a safety test flight.

Dickson, along with a number of pilots representing the FAA and Boeing, landed at King County International Airport – also known as Boeing Field – shortly before 11am local time on Wednesday, following the test flight.

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“I like what I saw on the flight,” Dickson said following his landing, however noted that he was not yet ready to give his official tick of approval, as FAA reviews continue on the jet.

“We are not to the point yet where we have completed the process,” he added.

The test flight was the latest step in the ongoing process to see the 737 MAX return to commercial service, after a worldwide grounding order was issued in light of two fatal crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia that together killed 346 people.

The accidents have had a devastating impact on Boeing, after forcing the intimate relationship between the planemaker and the FAA into the spotlight, and prompting US lawmakers to overhaul how the federal organisation certifies new airplanes in the future.

The tragedies have also seen airlines around the world delay, cancel or convert their MAX orders, all of which has been compounded by the COVID-19 crisis.

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Dickson said prior to the flight that he completed all of the new proposed pilot training and procedural requirements, as well as a simulator session.

The flight then was intended for him to personally test proposed 737 MAX design and operating changes intended to prevent disasters similar to the two crashes.

Dickson said previously that he would refuse to sign off on the plane’s recertification until he had personally flown the plane, could verify its updated safety measures were sufficient, and was “satisfied that I would put my own family on it without a second thought”.

However, not everyone is so convinced by the stunt.

A father of a 737 MAX crash victim has come out to label the move as nothing more than a publicity stunt, and has called for the FAA to release all test data and flight information to the public, so external experts can weigh in on these safety upgrades.

“Without that secret data, independent experts and the public cannot confirm whether the aircraft is safe,” said Michael Stumo, whose daughter was among the 157 people killed in the second 737 MAX crash in Ethiopia.

The families of the crash victims recently banded together to write a letter during the FAA’s public consultation period on the new MAX updates, which called for greater protections to be included in the new MAX, including new emergency alarm systems, and a complete aerodynamic overhaul on the aircraft.

From here, the FAA will still need to consider comments made during the public consultation, as well as finalise its own reviews.

However, inside sources believe that the FAA is likely to lift the US grounding order on the aircraft in November, with the European aviation safety agency to follow suit.

This could see the MAX return to commercial service before the year is out.

3 Comments

  • Doug Green

    says:

    I wonder whether they provoked the MCAS into action, and demonstrated how to deal with it. Wait a minute, doesn’t that mean implementing the trim runaway non-normal recall actions, which have been in place since the first 737 entered service?

  • Ronnie

    says:

    We lost trust in the authorities when Boeing failed to declare deficiencies in the 737 flight behaviour and the FAA never found that before certification. Why wasn’t there a detailed investigation of the differences from the 737 NG to the 737 MAX anyway. Why when Boeing significantly increased the flight control intervention at certain points of the flight envelope did they fail to declare that and why did the FAA fail to find it during certification. An FAA certification of the aircraft apparently found it was acceptable to have these now catastrophic flight interventions reliant on one AOA sensor, or they didn’t even check?. After the first 737 MAX crash apparently the FAA was content to issue warnings so that pilots would not let that happen again? But the aircraft had other ideas and it did happen again that the trim intervention ran away and overwhelmed the pilots and the 737 MAX crashed again within a year afterwards due to a faulty single sensor. Those pilots were not at fault – the 737 MAX was. A faulty sensor is not that uncommon, due to a number of reasons. That means one WILL he faulty again so we now think next time the airplane has been changed to ignore the condition. If that is still “safe” one asks why the software corrections are necessary in the first place. Its unbelievable now that Boeing and the FAA think that the aircraft is safe now with two sensors – either one of which can be faulty. But they are prepared to let the aircraft fly again on the basis that a third input to the software will be provided. When? Soon enough to prevent another crash? This is just statistics I think – another crash might happen at any time with this deficiency. Oh and the issue of the smaller and difficult to rotate trim wheel – is that just swept under the carpet now like it will never be needed? No, apparently better training will fix that! I don’t see how. It seems to me this 737 MAX is a dinosaur with some known faults that could cause it to crash again. Maybe the 737 MAX is ok to control if everything goes right, then turns into your worst nightmare when things go wrong. Only two crashes so far. I certainly hope there are no more. I’m astounded the FAA and Boeing are willing to take the risk, however small, of not completing all the known issues before allowing it to fly again. Its not as if they don’t know and understand there are some deficiencies still.

  • Andrew

    says:

    I would like to see the Boeing Board and their families fly on the Max prior to it re-entering service. What are the chances of that?

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